In May, the first distribution of federal coronavirus relief money from the American Rescue Plan Act hit municipal accounts. Over the past eight months, that account has grown to $20.3 million as Pittsfield received its city and county allocations.
In December, for the first round of money, city officials announced plans for $7.35 million for projects like the expansion of the child care center at the Berkshire Family YMCA, another round of money for the At Home in Pittsfield program and a marketing campaign.
On Jan. 27, city officials provided the federal government with a first look at how Pittsfield is spending its COVID money. The city’s first project and expenditures report covered spending through the end of 2021 and is the first of five years of quarterly reports.
How much money has been spent?Pittsfield spent $73,330.80 on four projects through the end of December.
The most expensive line item was the $26,555 used to purchase software to help the city track the financial data needed to complete ARPA reports during the course of the program.
Mayor Linda Tyer selected familiar faces in Deanna Ruffer, the Community Development director, and Gina Armstrong, the former Health Department director, to oversee the city's use of almost $41 million in American Rescue Plan Act money.
A little less than $23,000 was used to increase the staffing of the city’s contact tracing team during the start of the coronavirus pandemic’s omicron surge in December.
Installation of new steam traps at Crosby Elementary School cost $14,350.
The smallest allocated amount was the money used to pay the city’s new co-special projects managers, Deanna Ruffer and Gina Armstrong. About $9,700 went to salaries for Ruffer and Armstrong for the work they did during the final month of the reporting period.
Why these projects?When it came time to begin using the ARPA money, city officials said, they went with projects that showed the most immediate need and would start the city’s ARPA programming on a strong first step.
“I think admin is self-evident,” Ruffer said. “We needed to get the team in place and we needed to start having that foundation.”
With the software and ARPA team in place, the co-managers began looking at what projects could be accomplished quickest and with the most impact. Ruffer said that of the three building improvements proposed by Mayor Linda Tyer for first-round money, the city’s Public Maintenance Department said that adding steam traps to Crosby was the most feasible.
Funding of the additional staff for coronavirus contact tracing came down to timing.
Major repairs and updates to the city's Ashley Water Treatment Plant, upgrades to the Berkshire Family YMCA's child care center, and a second round of funding for the At Home in Pittsfield renovation project are the big-ticket items earmarked by city officials for money from federal coronavirus aid money.
“So, as ARPA funds became available, it really took the burden on local health departments to pick up the extra work of contact tracing as the omicron variant was surging,” said Armstrong, who previously led the city’s Health Department. “We, luckily, had this funding resource available and ready to support the staffing-level increase that was needed at the Health Department.”
What about all the other projects and money announced?For this report, ARPA recipients only had to report obligations — that is, money that has been promised through a contract — and expenditures that occurred before Dec. 31.
Financial Director Matt Kerwood said that the way he understood the reporting guidance from the federal government was that “if you didn’t actually spend any money, you didn’t have to report.”
The announcement of money for the YMCA project and round two of At Home in Pittsfield didn’t make the report because the city hasn’t begun spending or contracting on those projects yet.
Also missing from the list is a new potential project announced by Tyer during the City Council meeting Feb. 8. Tyer said the city is considering using ARPA money to develop 40 units of affordable housing at the White Terrace apartments, a property that has been the site of two major fires during the past five years.
The next report, which is due at the end of April, will cover the period from January through March. That’s where such projects as the Ashley Dam water treatment facility renovation will be included.
Ruffer said the contract for the water treatment project was completed in early January.
Contracts with local community groups, which the city invited to apply for money late last month, likely will be reported in the third-quarter report.
So, how does Pittsfield shape up with the rest of the state?Pittsfield is in a unique position when it comes to ARPA money in Massachusetts. The city — it was the only Berkshire County community to receive more than $5 million — has the highest ratio of money per resident, at $963 per person.
Pittsfield is in a group with 36 other Massachusetts cities when it comes to reporting requirements. The project and expenditure report recently sent to the Treasury Department marks the second report from this group, which was required to submit an interim report last fall.
The Treasury Department has yet to make the project and expenditure report available, but looking at the interim reports from this group provides some insight into how spending is going among the largest-city recipients in the state.
In the first report issued to the Treasury Department last fall, Pittsfield and 17 other cities reported no spending of ARPA money as of mid-September. The remaining 18 cities reported obligating from $500 (Worcester) to $55 million (Boston).
Pittsfield’s $280,000 in obligations puts it toward the lower end of city spending.